Helsinki and Tallinn compete over bus drivers

Hundreds of Estonian bus drivers have emigrated to Finland, attracted by higher pay in this country. The cities of Tallinn and Tartu are raising the pay of Estonian drivers in hopes of blunting the attraction of Helsinki.

The most recent rise in bus drivers pay takes effect at the beginning of August. Estonias Transport Workers Union has used the lure of Finland as leverage in making pay demands.

"Its impact on the pay rise is about half", estimates the unions chairman Peep Peterson.

An annual pay rise of about 20 percent has not eliminated the shortage of drivers, however. In July, Tallinn was forced to cut back on services on 15 bus lines.

"I suspect that Tartu will be in the same situation in the autumn", Peterson says. He expects the situation to continue to deteriorate for two more years.

About one in five bus drivers in the Helsinki region are of Estonian or Russian origin.

A bus driver in Helsinki earns between three and four times as much as in Estonia. A bus driver in Tallinn gets a basic salary of EUR 660 a month. In Helsinki, the minimum pay for a city bus driver is EUR 2,004 a month, plus various extras.

Andres Harjo, head of the transport department of the City of Tallinn sees factors other than the attraction of Helsinki at work. He notes that many Tallinn bus drivers leave to take better paid work in Estonia.

Peterson also sees the poor state of bus driver training as a contributing factor in the problem.

Many of the Estonian drivers working in Helsinki came to Finland in the early part of the decade, when transport companies were hiring new workers.

The flow has since abated, although the lifting of the work permit requirement in May this year brought a new surge.

Bus route operators in the Helsinki region are not afraid of competition with Tallinn.

The bus company Helsingin Bussiliikenne is launching a recruitment campaign, with advertisements in Estonian newspapers. The companys personnel manager Lilja Kinnunen does not believe that a rise in pay in Tallinn and Tartu would encourage many drivers to move back to Estonia, although she does think that it could make it more difficult to get more drivers.

"We do not get as many enquiries as we used to. There is always a threshold to moving to another country, getting a place to live, and acquiring local knowledge", Kinnunen points out.

Ilkka Loimusto, head of the bus company Connex, says that the desire of Estonians to come to Finland has increased.

"When you go there with the money you get here, youre rich", Loimusto says.

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